Bed bug bites and mosquito bites look and feel similar. Unless you’ve seen the parasitic insect itself, it’s difficult to tell what bit you. Fortunately, there are ways to tell bed bugs and mosquitos apart.
Both appear as small red raised lumps. Both kinds of bite itch and won’t burst. However, bed bug bites take longer to heal than mosquito bites, and appear in clusters. To tell which bug has bitten you, search for bed bugs with interceptors and lures.
We’ll explore each of the differences and similarities between bed bug bites and mosquito bites. We’ll also cover exactly how to tell bed bug bites from other insect bites and skin issues.
Bed Bug Bites vs. Mosquito Bites
Bed bug bites and mosquito bites are similar in appearance. It’s important to be able to tell the difference so that you know your parasite.
Bed bug bites are small spots, about the size of a pea. They are a pink, red or brown color, and appear anywhere on the body, even under clothes. Bed bug bites are solid and won’t pop if you squeeze them. They itch terribly and appear in clusters.
The problem is that mosquito bites share most of these attributes. They look and feel the same. The main difference is that mosquitoes can’t bite under clothes, or in clusters.
However, not everyone reacts to a bed bug bite. According to the journal Medical and Veterinary Entomology, only 80% of people exhibit these symptoms. This means you may not react.
Are Bed Bug Bites Similar to Mosquito Bites?
Fortunately, there are some differences between bed bug bites and mosquito bites. Let’s take a closer look at how you can tell the two apart.
1) They Look The Same
Both bites are red, raised lumps.
Both can range in color from a light pink to a brown color. They vary in size, but are as big as a pea on average. They’re also both raised slightly from the skin.
Besides that, mosquito bites feel the same as bed bug bites. They are smooth to the touch and swollen. It’s impossible to tell them apart just by looking at two individual bites.
According to a paper in Clinical Infectious Diseases, bug bites are itchy because of bed bug saliva. Bed bug saliva contains two different chemicals:
- An anticoagulant. Anticoagulants stop blood from clotting. This allows the bed bug to feed for several minutes.
- An anesthetic. Anesthetics numb feeling, either in a particular area or generally. This anesthetic stops the bite from itching or stinging at first.
But once these chemicals wear off, the body notices that the saliva is there. It then begins its immune response.
Mosquito bites are itchy for the same reason. It’s thought that both parasites originally evolved from species that fed on plants. This is still true of male mosquitoes, which feed on nectar, not blood.
Their similar lineages explain why their bites employ the same mechanisms.
The response above doesn’t just cause an itch. It also causes the area to swell up. This happens so that more blood can reach the bitten area.
The more blood gets into the area of the bite, the more white blood cells do. White blood cells are the most critical part of the body’s immune system. They find, latch onto and destroy foreign bacterial cells.
By allowing these white blood cells to reach the area, the swelling helps protect the body. But unlike pimples, the swelling can’t be squeezed and popped. This applies both to mosquito bites and bed bug bites.
Differences Between Bed Bug Bites and Mosquito Bites
Given that they look the same, you’ve got a difficult task on your hands telling the difference between the two. Look for the following signs:
1) Bed Bug Bites Last Longer
As a rule, mosquito bites clear up faster. Bed bug bites take between one and two weeks to disappear entirely. If you have a strong reaction to bed bug bites, then it can take three weeks.
Mosquito bites take much less time. They usually clear up in 3-4 days. Over those days, the bite will lose some of its swelling, and normal color will return. It should be healed in a week at the most.
There’s also the fact that bed bugs continually bite. Each bed bug feeds once every three days. If you have a dozen or so bed bugs infesting your mattress, you’ll be bitten every night. So, while one bite will heal, more will take its place, albeit in different locations.
Mosquitoes can continually bite too. But it’s far more common for one to pester you, until you eventually find and kill it.
2) Bed Bugs Bite in Clusters
Bed bug bites frequently form patterns, while mosquito bites don’t.
Mosquitoes bite on any patch of skin that they find. Since they live and seek out hosts alone, the bites will appear in random places. You can get several in one place as a result of exposing your skin.
But bed bug bites are frequently arranged in patterns. Usually, they form in a line. That line is the part of your body that was against the mattress as you slept. Different bed bugs follow the same route to reach you. They feed at the first patch of skin they found.
3) Mosquitoes Bite Exposed Skin Only
Bed bug bites appear on parts of your body close to the mattress. This means your sides and back, usually. But the bites will be on whatever part of your body is closest to their harborage. Assuming that you sleep on your back:
- If their home is under the top left of your mattress, the bites will be on your left side and shoulder.
- If their home is under your dresser at the foot of your bed, the bites will be on your feet and legs.
- If their home is behind the headboard of your bed, then the bites will be on your shoulders.
This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. But if you notice the bites are always on your left, check on that side of the mattress.
By contrast, mosquito bites appear anywhere that was exposed. They’re more likely to bite your legs and arms, as these are more easily exposed. They won’t get under the sheets to bite you because it’s not in their nature.
4) Bed Bugs Bite Year-Round
Bed bugs continue biting all through the winter. Cooler temperatures slow their metabolism, but they won’t stop feeding. They need to mate year-round, and need to feed to mate.
If you reside in a cooler climate, you won’t get mosquitoes in winter. That’s because some species hibernate over the winter. Other species lay their eggs before winter comes, and die in the cold.
The eggs hatch when the temperatures rise. That’s the first warm day of spring, or summer if you live somewhere cold. They’ll live and feed throughout the warm weather before dying off again in the fall and winter.
5) Mosquito Bites Spread Diseases
Both bites can become infected. This occurs when you can’t stop itching the spot, and you cause an open wound. You can use antibiotics to prevent this from happening.
The main difference is that bed bugs don’t transmit diseases. Mosquitoes can spread viruses like malaria, yellow fever, the Zika virus and more. Bed bugs don’t naturally carry any diseases, even if they feed on multiple people.
Bites That Look Like Bed Bugs (But Aren’t)
Aside from mosquito bites, bed bug bites can also be confused with those of other pests. They may also look like health issues. Bed bug bites appear superficially similar to:
- Spider bites. House spiders don’t bite people. Large spider bites are big wounds.
- Flea bites. These are small red bites, but are more distinct.
- Acne. Pimples cause raised spots, but they burst and usually have a white head.
- Hives. These are an allergic reaction that resembles bed bug bites. They’re more blotchy. This is how to tell hives and bed bug bites apart.
- Chickenpox. These spots appear across the whole body, and cause fever and headaches too.
With a little research, there’s no chance you could confuse bed bug bites with these conditions.
Do I Have Mosquitoes or Bed Bugs?
Figuring out how to tell bed bug bites from other bites is about more than visually identifying them. Searching for the bugs themselves is the better way.
1) Where to Find Bed Bugs
It’s difficult to tell bed bug bites and mosquito bites apart just by looking. So, check your room for bed bugs first. Searching for bed bugs is easy. Look in places like:
- Underneath your mattress
- Underneath the furniture next to your bed
- On your bed frame
- In folded clothing, stored in your wardrobe or dresser
If you check these places, and there are lots of bed bugs, then that’s what your bites are. If you check there and there aren’t any, then it’s likely something else.
2) Catch Bed Bugs in an Interceptor Trap
Just because you can’t spot them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. Bed bugs are sneaky and tricky to find.
You should use interceptor traps to pick them up passively. These sit around the feet of your bed, and catch them as they try to reach you. Pest controllers use them to spot infestations.
If you put them in place, and find some bed bugs, then that’s likely what your problem was. Do be aware, though, that they can’t catch bed bugs underneath your mattress.
3) Hire a Pest Control Expert
Pest controllers use many methods to spot bed bugs. They use interceptors, but they also use active lures. These give off CO2 or heat to attract bed bugs, as they think the lure is you. They’re more effective than interceptors.
Some pest controllers also use bed bug sniffer dogs. However, these aren’t always effective. But pest controllers also know precisely where to look. This increases their chances of finding them.
They may also be aware of other infestations they’ve treated nearby. If you live in a block, and somebody nearby had bed bugs, they might know.
4) Bed Bug vs. Mosquito Range
Both bed bugs and mosquitoes are found across the country. However, each is more common in certain places compared to others.
Bed bugs are most common in cities and suburbs. The more people in an area, the more bed bugs there will be. This especially applies if you live in an apartment block. If you live somewhere with hardly any neighbors, bed bugs spread there slower.
Mosquitoes live almost anywhere. However, they need standing water like ponds and pools to breed. If you live near a large lake, you’ll likely have a mosquito problem. If your neighbor has a pool they don’t maintain, the same applies.
This won’t tell you definitively whether you have bed bugs or mosquitoes. But it can help you make an educated guess.
The most crucial thing to do is to search for bed bugs and use interceptors. Even if you’re squeamish around insects, remember: the sooner you find them, the sooner you treat them.